The Organized College Student
Things to Consider when Picking a College/University

Question from leiragnohc: Do you have any advice for high school juniors who have no idea where to start when it comes to anything college?

Answer: Let me start by saying that I think that it is good that you are starting to consider this before your senior year.  This is a very hard question because there are so many variables to consider when picking a college, and they are all based on personal preferences and personal values. None of the factors listed below are individually sufficient for picking a college, you will want to consider a combination of various factors (which increases the difficulty of the decision).  Here are just a few of the many things you will want to consider:

Price/Scholarships:  Although you don’t want price to be the deciding factor in choosing a school when making your final decision, it would be unrealistic to think that it isn’t going to have some influence on your decision.  For some people it is unrealistic to pay upwards of $100,000 to attend a “name-brand” school.  If your school appears to be outside your financial limits, just keep in mind that there are always scholarships as long as you are willing to put in the work to find them and apply for them.  Also, keep in mind that just because a school is ultra-expensive doesn’t mean that it is going to be a good fit for everyone. 

Close to home vs. far away: Would you prefer to go to an in-state college where you will be relatively close to home or would you rather move far away for a fresh start.  To me this factor does not seem to be as important as the other criteria, but if you feel strongly about staying close to home this could be very important to you.  Going along with the previous factor of price, it is worth considering that colleges tend to give discounts to in-state students.  Also, consider whether or not you want to be close to family. 

Major/interests:  Do you have a specific career in mind?  If you do, obviously you want to pick a college that offers that major and look into what is required to be accepted into that major.  One thing I think that goes overlooked at times is that you not only have to be accepted into your school, but many times you have to apply to and be accepted into the program you want to major in.  Also if there is a specific major you want to join, it may be beneficial to look into how that program rates to similar programs throughout the country.  You will also want to look into if the program is accredited or not.  If you don’t have a major picked out, that is completely fine.  Think about what your interests are and how these align with possible future careers.  Before looking at colleges you may want to spend some time researching possible careers as well so that you have an idea of what you may want to major in.  Honestly, there are so many people that change their major in college.  For example, I went into college wanting to be either a physical therapist or a brain surgeon, I then changed my major to English and education; finally I ended up in my major of Addiction Studies.  I randomly took drug studies and then the next semester took alcohol studies and realized that this is what I wanted to major in, chemical dependency counseling.  Sometimes you randomly fall into your major like I did, and that is just how life works.  Be open-minded to changing your major if you find something that interests you. P.S., even with all of my changes in major I still graduated in 4 years.  Remember, the first year you are in college you will be taking mostly general studies classes anyways (math, some type of science, English, and other classes literally everyone has to take in order to graduate) so you can take this time researching your majors. 

Two year vs. four year: Do you want to attend school for two years or four years?  This factor seems pretty self-explanatory to me so I’m not going to delve into this as much as the other factors listed. 

Big vs. small school:  Do you want to know the names of all of the people on campus or do you want to meet new people almost every day?  If you suffer from social anxiety you may want to attend a smaller school so that you don’t feel overwhelmed.  Also, you want to think about the student/teacher ratio as this will affect the amount of attention you will get in class and with your teachers. 

Online or on-campus:  This is something that some people don’t consider.  There are some programs that are offered completely online.  My cousin did this as she had really bad social anxiety and would have panic attacks if she was around too many people.  Also, the program I’m in is offered completely online so that people can work while they are also in the program.  One downside to this is that it takes a ton of effort to keep up, especially in your first year of college since you are responsible for logging in and doing your assignments.  One of the advantages is that if you are attending school completely online, then you most likely won’t have to worry about those hidden housing costs that include meal plans and other fees.  One thing to be aware of with this factor is to make sure that the college is accredited and is not a scam.  I attend my Master’s program completely online, but it is through one of the top universities in my state (also where I attended my undergraduate program), so I know that it is legitimate.  Side note, I know it sounds prestigious when I say “top universities in my state” but keep in mind I am from a really small Midwestern state. 

Admission rate:  Again, this factor should not be a deciding factor in the college you pick.  Some colleges only accept 50% of those that apply whereas some accept 80% of those that apply.  Although you should not stop yourself from applying to a school specifically because they are selective, you should know how selective the school is because you will want to apply to multiple schools if your primary school is extremely selective.  Honestly, you should be applying to multiple schools no matter what.  Normally students apply to school in their junior or senior year of high school as there are deadlines for applying.  You may change your mind on what school is your top pick between the time you apply and the time you are ready to make a decision and you don’t want to miss deadlines and have to wait another year to apply. 

Extracurricular activities & Greek life:  Were you in debate in high school and want to continue on in that in college?  Is there a sport that you have played or have always wanted to try?  Are you interested in Greek life?  I am going to focus on Greek life here for a second.  I was in a sorority for about one year, it just wasn’t for me.  Many sororities have a GPA requirement and this will encourage you to keep up your grades.  The sorority that I was in required study hours and this should help you keep on track with studying.  There are older members in the sorority that may be able to help you if you guys are in the same major (they can help you study, tell you what the good and bad teachers in your program are, and help you figure out what classes you will need to take).  Being in a sorority gives you the opportunity to get more scholarships, either from alumni or Greek life in general.  You really want to seriously consider getting involved on campus whether it be in extracurricular activities or Greek life as these are serious résumé builders!

Admission requirements:  You will also want to look into what is required of you to apply to the school.  Is your GPA high enough?  What is your SAT/ACT score?  What is the price of applying (yes, you will have to pay to simply apply and it is usually around $50)?  Are you going to need references?  Is an interview required?  Do they require an admission essay?  Does the school you are applying to want you to be in extracurricular activities in high school?  Most importantly, what is the deadline for turning in an application?  Start preparing for applications months prior to actually applying so that you make sure that you have everything ready-to-go before the deadline date. 

Visiting Campus:  Once you have narrowed down your options, you will want to visit campus.  You will want to do a variety of things when visiting: eat on campus, talk with teachers in the department you are interested in, talk with admissions, talk with a student that is in the department you are interested in, and get a tour of campus.  There are many other things that you can do on campus, so plan this out before you go.  I strongly suggest going on a personal tour of the college and not only visit on a “visit day” where hundreds of other people are also visiting.  These “visit days” don’t tailor the tour towards any one specific major or person typically, so scheduling an individual tour allows you to do everything you want to do and talk to everyone you want to talk to. 

Here are some links that I found via google searching that may be helpful to you:

http://parentingteens.about.com/od/collegeinfo/a/collegequestion.htm

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/9-dumbest-reasons-to-pick-a-college/

http://www.actstudent.org/college/factors.html

http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2011/04/04/10-steps-to-picking-the-right-college

Followers, please feel free to add anything to the comments that I may have missed!